When a character in a musical sings, “'The more you love someone/ The more you want to kill him,” you know you’ve entered an alternate reality. Or maybe there’s nothing alternate about it.
The truth is that Avenue Q, which won the 2004 Tony Award for best musical, is more about the real world than almost any musical I can think of. If you don’t believe me, check out Avenue Q for yourself at the Aronoff Center. The hilarious, raunchy show is Sesame Street through a dirty lens.
The story centers around Princeton (Seth Rettberg), a recent college grad ready to take on the world. (In fact, Rettberg is a recent college grad — in 2006 he graduated from the musical theater program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music.) But Princeton’s idealism soon crashes when he lands in a divey neighborhood and meets folks with big plans but no traction. Their mantra “It Sucks to Be Me” is soon his.
But that doesn’t mean life isn’t interesting: His building super is a grown-up Gary Coleman (Danielle K. Thomas), the child star of Diff’rent Strokes. Neighbors include Rod, an uptight Republican investment banker who’s undoubtedly gay (also played by Rettberg); an aspiring comedian (Cole Porter) and his Japanese girlfriend Christmas Eve (Sala Iwamatsu); a reclusive porn addict named Trekkie Monster (David Benoit); and a cute kindergarten teaching assistant, Kate Monster (Anika Larsen, who also plays Kate’s sultry rival for Princeton’s affections, Lucy the Slut).
Turning the corner from Sesame Street toward its downscale intersection with Avenue Q, two-thirds of the characters are Muppet-like puppets, operated in full view by the actors. Occasional videos parse words and ideas, although their meanings are not elementary. Princeton and Kate engage in “full-puppet nudity” while the company sings, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” and the “Bad Idea Bears” (blue and yellow, cute and cuddly) offer ill-considered advice like drinking to excess and suicide.
Despite the raucous, off-color humor — or maybe because of it — Avenue Q is about coping with today’s world and finding a circle of friends that feels real and meaningful. Not bad for a show with puppets, sex and a song arguing that “The Internet Is for Porn.”
AVENUE Q, presented by Broadway Across America, continues through May 3 at the Aronoff Center downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.